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Lehigh County Court Agrees to Bifurcation of Post-Koken Case At Trial Stage

In the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas post-Koken case of Purta v. Blower and Erie Ins. Exch., No. 2010-C-2515 (C.P. Lehigh Co. Sept. 20, 2011 Reibman, J.), the Honorable Edward D. Reibman addressed the seemingly novel issue presented by a Motion to Severance filed by the UIM carrier Defendant to bifurcate jointly filed third party and underinsured motorist (UIM) claims into separate trials.

In a detailed Order, Judge Reibman granted the UIM carrier's Motion for Severance and ordered that the case proceed to trial with only the Plaintiffs and Defendant tortfeasor being involved in the first trial.

Judge Reibman held that "pursuant to the criteria set forth in Pa.R.C.P. 213(b), and so as to avoid confusion of the threshold issues of alleged liability and damages caused by the Defendant Blower as the tortfeasor, the claims against Erie will be severed and addressed in a subsequent trial if necessary."

I have also been informed that a review of the docket indicates that the jury did not award any damages to the plaintiff in the trial against the third party tortfeasor.  Accordingly, the UIM claim is moot unless the verdict set aside or reversed on appeal.

Thus, it appears that another argument in favor of the bifurcation of post-Koken claims at trial is one of judicial economy in that the bifurcation of the claims, with the third party negligence case going first, not only streamlines that trial, but may also render a second trial on the UIM claim moot depending on the results of the first trial.

Anyone desiring a copy of this detailed Order in the case of Purta v. Blower and Erie Ins. may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

Post Submitted by:

Daniel E. Cummins, Esq.

Foley, Cognetti, Comerford, Cimini & Cummins

Scranton, PA

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